6:30am- 6pm- with a 90 minute wait at Denver and a two hour stop in Ely.
Well Creek, Tidal Ouse, Great Ouse, River Cam
26 miles, 3 locks
We were up early today to catch the tide. After discussing tactics with Paul the lock keeper, we went into the lock.
Because Willow is longer than 63 feet, the normal lock gates to lock boats up to the high tide level could not be used. Instead, a small, low set of gates were closed behind the boat, and we locked down one foot from the Well Creek level to the slack water at low tide.
Once out we paused alongside the tyre wall for the tide to turn and start flowing inwards. Although there isn’t a big aegir or bore like on the Severn, when the tide arrives it does bring a surge.
Dead on time at 6:54, we saw a pulse of water heading up the river and Willow went rapidly backwards towards the gate, then rapidly forwards, as the surge carried us around. I was able to use the engine to slow us down, but even using lots of power couldn’t keep the boat quite still against the tide. It didn’t matter though; after a couple of smaller secondary surges, we were able to head to Denver sluice. The river had changed almost miraculously from dead flat calm to a visible faster-than-walking-pace flow inland within a minute. We were able to edge the fore end out into the stream slowly, and pirouetted around until we were facing towards Denver.
As we went up the tidal river, we saw the large digger outside Denver start to dredge. We knew from Paul that the floating pontoons were not in place, and had been doubled up in front of the lock entrance with the silt pusher boat moored to them. There was no place to easily stop, so we ended up having the fore end moored onto the very end of one of the pontoons, and the back moored loosely to one of the vertical posts that the pontoons were normally moored to. Luckily because the tide was coming in we didn’t have to worry about touching the bottom and going aground, if we had we would have just floated off a few minutes later when the tide came in more. Much less stressful than on a falling tide!
Once we were safely moored, they started digging again, plunging the digger arm into the river about ten feet behind Willow’s stern which was very disconcerting!
We had a long wait for the lock keeper. He was due, according to the board, at 8:00am, and so we waited, having tea and bacon sandwiches whilst waiting. In the end, he didn’t come down until 8:40, because there had been a communication problem between them and Paul at Salters Lode and they weren’t expecting us until later. We only just made it under the bridge across the lock chamber, had they waited another 20 minutes the tide would have been too high and I suppose we would have had to wait outside the lock until it dropped.
Undeterred we locked through and set off towards Ely through the grey skies and light drizzle. Amy had to set up the laptop and catch up on work inside, but I steered on fortified by occasional cups of tea and planning in my head the next steps of fitting out Willow.
We arrived at Ely at 11:30 and emptied e cassettes and filled the water tank before moving down the town quay to find a mooring. We managed to hang off the end of a nice mooring with the back sitting alongside a tall wall, exactly the same place we have moored Lucky Duck on previous occasions.
Once safely moored we headed for Waterside Antiques. There were a few items we were considering purchasing, including a lovely brass bilge pump- first spotted in 2007- which we resisted buying for today. We did however come away with a shunter’s pole, not because i fancy shunting some loose coupled goods wagons on the railway but as a device to clear the propellor. As Willow doesn’t have a weedhatch, you have to poke and prod from the side with the cabin shaft (boat hook) but shunter’s poles, which have a spiked corkscrew end, are excellent at removing weed and fabric, because you can twist the corkscrew end into it and pull it off easily. We also popped into the chandlery and got some small diameter stove rope to redo the joint at the top of the flue to the collar which is dribbling tar- a job to do when it’s warm enough to let the fire go out!
We bumped into our friend Mark, AKA The Engineer, on a cruise on his new boat, WB Norwegian Blue (“This is an EX PARROT!” Etc.) and were joined by our friend Richenda for the journey to Waterbeach.
The weather stayed grey and there were occasional drops of rain, but it wasn’t too bad and we made swift progress. Bottisham Lock was against us as a Bridge Boats hire cruiser was locking up in front of us, but we reset the lock and went in. There was a slight hitch when the hydraulic pump that powers the gates and slackers (East Anglian term for paddles) refused to work and lower the slackers down again. After a few minutes of poking and prodding, moving the guillotine gate, and generally faffing with the panel the hydraulics decided to work again and we locked through.
We moored at the 48s at Clayhithe and went to The Bridge pub for dinner. Just as we were finishing our pudding we were joined by Big John and a work colleague, and a very convivial time was had, culminating in a tour of the boat. Plans were also made for a possible gathering in Sunday if the forecast good weather turns up, which would be very welcome.
Tomorrow we’ll head into Cambridge in the morning, and then start organising Lyra and our worldly goods so we can move off of Lucky Duck.